Doha Film Institute is known to have utilised social networking effectively to market the festival and its various initiatives.
Can you tell us more about this part of your activity?
Part of Doha Film Institutes (DFI) mission has always been to reach out, engage and give our community a sense of ownership of our initiatives, be it education, production, or our event, the Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF), so social networking is an essential part of everything we do to communicate with our community. Its really helped us create an organisation that reflects not just the people who work for DFI but also the community thats connected to us in any way.
Facebook, Twitter and BBM are hugely popular in Qatar so weve been able to connect to different communities very easily through these outlets.
DFI values social networking as a direct and open line of interaction. It helps to let everyone know what DFI is up to year round, because we have so many things happening every week be it film screenings, events, competitions or workshops. Its the best way to post what were doing 24/7. Our Tweetup events also help us meet our community and respond quickly to what were interested in; its very dynamic. Social networking means that youve opened a door to your community and you have to be prepared to interact all year round. Bringing on-line communication off-line makes our relationships real and thats something very important to us.
Any new features that you have added to this element this year?
This year, weve increased our twittering in Arabic and have discovered some really impressive online forums that are helping us connect with some interesting women. Another new initiative is our guest blogging partnerships. Were working with some very tuned-in regional and international bloggers who are offering us some interesting perspectives that we want to share with our community online too.
I think we need to see this as something that constantly needs to evolve. Social networking is a living community and that community is never static, so already we are re-launching a new website in time for the festival so that we can offer a truly online film festival. Youll see a new multimedia exhibition go online with acclaimed cinematic photographer Brigitte Lacombe. We are also launching online film education and and much more in the coming months.
Can you share stats on how many visitors you attract?
We have almost 6,000 Facebook fans who are active daily, and more than 1,500 followers on Twitter. Thankfully, our followers are re-tweeting our news and events, and our Facebook fans are constantly giving us helpful feedback. Our website was designed to be an interesting content platform, and DFI really enjoys making short films, virals and stories about what were up to and reflecting it in the medium we love best, which is moving images.
Do you have an IT team in place to handle this element?
Everyone at DFI is involved in our social networking and website. Every department is involved in making sure the community, be it volunteers or film enthusiasts, filmmakers, you name it, are engaged. Every morning at our daily meetings we ask — should this go on our website? Lets grab a camera, do a call to action, and see how we can engage our community online. There is a dedicated web team but theres nothing isolationist about their approach; its all about collaborating between various DFI departments. Were also not trying to be one voice, we have many on our online communications to reflect the many voices that reflect DFI and our community.
How receptive has the Middle East been to social media?
Social media outlets are fairly new to Doha but their relevance to peoples lives here is expanding at a phenomenal rate. Whats most interesting about this is that we can look and see the mistakes that were done in other parts of the world and not repeat them here.
For example, if you look at the US, there in an over-abundance of content being made, some not with high standards, and a lot of the content goes unnoticed. We looked at that and decided not to go down the same path. I come from a broadcasting background. As a producer and storyteller, I have only ever been interested in content that connects me somehow, however short or long and whatever the genre. My quality control has always been about simply, do I care about this does it make me laugh or have a profound impact on the way I see the world.
At DFI, we are always striving to make content of value and how we can repurpose high-quality content that is already out there to share with our community or showcase talent thats in our online community. So instead of having ten of our staff work on the blog, we invite talented bloggers in the region to write for us. Instead of producing tons of videos ourselves, our content team empowers other people through workshops to give their unique perspectives; we see our online existence as a unique platform to empower storytellers from all spheres and to connect them. Every guest bloggers network then becomes a part of ours, and every student that tells their friends network to check out their video on our site improves our traffic and the reach of the things were doing.
Personally, I am very excited to be here at such a crucial time in this regions social media evolution. Connections are being made that otherwise wouldnt have been, information is being released that would have otherwise remained private, and ideas are being shared that would have otherwise gone unheard. The best part of it all is that the infrastructure and technology is in place. All we have to do is now decide the best way to use it.
How has the Doha Tribeca Film Festival progressed since last year?
The festivals first year saw a slate of 31 feature films from 23 countries and territories, including acclaimed Arab films, documentaries, as well as features from Hollywood and Bollywood. Now spanning five days, this years festival will take place at its new hub, Katara, the cultural village in Doha. We are very excited to have our first Jury who will preside over an Arab Film Competition awarding prizes for Best Arab Film and Best Arab Filmmaker. In addition to the Arab Film Competition, the festival will also feature two audience awards, one for Best Narrative Film and the other for Best Documentary Film. Each award features cash prizes of $100,000 (USD) each. Also new this year is the Best Arab Short Film Award, which will award $10,000 (USD) to the winner.
Have your initiatives led to any serious filmmaking efforts in the country?
The Doha Film Institute was founded by Qatars H.E. Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad Al Thani with the aim of discovering and nurturing filmmaking talent in the region. Through its year round initiatives, DFI has created a platform for aspiring filmmakers through its education workshops, which are led by Oscar nominated Palestinian filmmaker Scandar Copti and a talented team of mentors that include British filmmaker Ben Robinson and Lebanese filmmaker Chadi Zenaddine.
These filmmakers, and many other talented mentors, teach local and regional aspiring talent the most current and relevant filmmaking knowledge, with experience to match.
Our educational programmes were launched a year ago and weve already begun to see a new generation of filmmakers spawn from that. Many started out with just making one-minute films and are now making 10-minute films, which will premiere at this years DTFF. This is definitely a clear indication of young talent that is serious about the art of filmmaking.
What are some of the challenges of organising a film festival in the Middle East?
The challenge for me personally was the unknown. As a new festival in the Middle East, we simply didnt know for sure if we had large enough audiences who would want to come to see films in a festival environment or whether the films we programmed would appeal to the local audience.
For a festival to be successful in the Middle East or anywhere in the world, you need the communitys support, and this was the challenge, we had to earn that support as a new untested event and organisation. But its been so positive, and when 5,000 people turned up on our opening night last year to watch the film in a community screening, it was an overwhelming thumbs up that we were bringing something invaluable to this region. Were very grateful for that support and it keeps us going 24/7, which is a challenge that is not unique to any organisation that has a festival to produce every year!
Has DFI launched a fund to promote filmmaking in this region?
Were very excited this year to be able to make a commitment to helping regional filmmakers, and ten Arab feature films will be supported every year by DFI, as a minimum. We are also interested in supporting non-Arab filmmakers and co-productions, but its important that we start in our region and support films in the most sustainable and credible way. Its important too that we dont just support filmmakers financially; its about connecting them with the best knowledge and relationships we can offer to ensure a film gets finished and finds audiences. We also want to ensure a wide range of different stories and talents get supported to reflect the diversity of talent that exists.